What is Traditional Mexican Dance
And, How to Make a Mexican Dance Skirt
Last school semester I had the opportunity to study Traditional Mexican food. This was a really great project, as it gave me an excuse to make a huge amount of Pozole, a traditional Mexican soup. Besides, helping me discover how utterly wrong Mexican food is portrayed in the states. If you would like to see the resulting project, here.
This semester I had another opportunity to study a facet of a Spanish speaking culture. Yet again, I chose to go to Mexico. This time around I wanted to share something that is close to my heart, rather than my stomach. Originally, I really wanted to learn about traditional Mexican dance. However, as I came to read more I realized that it would be more interesting to discuss how traditional Mexican dance has changed over time, and what it is. Always wanting to get my hands into something I decided that I wanted to show you a bit of this through sewing a traditional Mexican dance skirt.
The pattern I used called for about 3 yards of fabric, as well as elastic. It was also intended for an 8 year old. For most of this project I used what sewing knowledge I have to create my own "traditional" skirt. But I did base it off of the linked pattern. If I have further tips outside of that pattern I will mark it as a "tip." Reading this before doing the pattern is probably the best way to go about it, if you wish to make the skirt.
Tip: Standing at 5' 7" I decided to go with 5 yards of my base color (the white), 3 yards of each green and 1 1/2 yards of the teal. I also purchased over 200 yards of thread, and waistband elastic in case I wished to use it.
Mexican Dance has undergone many changes. Some of which can be pinpointed with the Spaniard conquest.During this time new styles were merged, costumes and customs were altered, and some dances were banned or changed in order to appease the authorities. However, the dances that we are left with today do in fact contain much of the original aspects of these dances. The colorful costumes, traditional music, exaggerated headgear, and loud footwork can still be seen in many of the dances.
Two Inedible Donuts
Tip: Make your circle as long as the fabric will allow. Don't worry if you get less or more then the pattern says. You can work with it.
Depending on the area you go to, Mexican dances will vary. Different regions can have a different style, music, costume, and meaning behind a dance. Before the conquest, dance was taught by parents and considered an important facet of a child’s education. Many of these various traditional dances were performed during religious functions only, and in order to appease or praise the Gods.
Tip: In the original pattern it tells you to create one BIG circle with the two doughnuts. If you are making a smaller skirt where all you will be doing is this part, and perhaps a small trim then go ahead and do that. However, if you are making something longer you will want to double these. First off it will add modesty (especially if using lighter colors), and second of all it will make it so that the following levels aren't ridiculously hard to put on. You'll see what I mean.
During the time of conquest the Mexican culture, was influenced greatly by the Christian values and beliefs that came along with the Spaniards. A part of this influence was an exaggeration of the need for modesty. Thus, creating a need for more fabric in most costumes. Fuller, less revealing skirts were included to obtain modesty.
Support- I Mean the Waist
Tip: Because of the added fullness of the skirt the waist for such dancing skirts is really a means of support. I didn't use the elastic the pattern called for. This is because I simply marked the sash to exactly how much went around my waist, just resting above my hips, and then gathered the top of the skirt, as needed, to fit my waist. If you have a harder time tailoring to fit, go with the elastic.
Tip: Make sure that this strip is longer then the circumference of your original circle. My original circle had a circumference of around 2 1/2 yards. So I went with making the teal into a 4 yards long and 5 inch wide strip.
Expression was something that was greatly influenced by the Spanish conquest. Two of the more well know dances are the fandango, and seguidilla, which reached a peak of popularity in the 18th century. Each dance impacted by a strict social code which prevented dance partners touching each other. Throughout the dance, partners traditionally remain around 2 feet away from each other as they go through the dance. In part, due to this social code facial expression, eye contact, and expressive gestures became an important part of these, and many other dances. Handkerchiefs, fans, and long full skirts helped to add to the expression of the dance as well. This combination of Spaniard social code, and indigenous expression combined for the bright colors, costuming, and dance steps we know today.
Tip: So far you should have the first two layers. Your base/white and your small strip/teal. For the light green I increased to 8 yards in length and 10 inches wide. This gives you a really nice effect when you gather it all, and helps give you the traditional looking "full skirt."
Like I have mentioned, many dances had to adapt in order to be in accordance with the ideologies and customs of the Christian Spaniards. Some dances were banned at the time due to their sexual innuendos, explicit costumes, or rebellious undercurrent. When the era of conquest did end however, what we recognize as traditional Mexican and Spanish dance forms did continue to influence each other, and more fully merge. This continued merging being a result of many Spaniards permanently staying in Mexico after the conquest was over. Thus, such things that were influenced by the Spaniards continued to be influenced and stuck for all intents and purposes. The culture had already been changed, and there wasn't much of a slide back to older dance roots. Although, those who knew the older dances could again teach them.
Tip: This is the last piece, so you will want to make sure that you hem the whole thing before you begin to gather it. For this piece, I made it 12 yards long and 10 inches wide (but after doing a double hem it was 8 inches wide).
Generally in traditional skirts there would be embroidery, and some symbolism or special meaning would be worked into the skirt. These skirts were considered pieces of art. As previously mentioned, the dances that would be preformed were ones that would be passed down generationally. Often times along with these dances the costuming would be passed down as well. Thus there was meaning held in every stitch, and it wasn't simply "another piece of clothing." Also, traditionally these dances were preformed for special occasions such as birthdays, weddings, religious affairs, and other life marking events. Thus, giving even more meaning to any symbolism embroidered into the piece.
Making a Tent
Tip: 12 yards is a lot of fabric. Do not panic! Just make sure you lay everything correctly so that your hem will end up on the side it should be on when your done. Trust me, it took me three tries to figure that out. Keep at it, and truly the yards upon yards will give you a beautiful and full skirt, with all of the twirling and swishing capabilities that it should have.
Mexican dances began long before the Spaniards came. However, with their arrival they morphed and changed a bit. Through out the years however some new dances have arisen. Amelia Herandez founded a school in 1958 to teach ballets that would celebrate traditional dance. Herandez even choreographed over 30 ballets herself. Traditional dance has come to be known in more general terms now. It doesn't simply refer to the dances that native people in Mexico would have known. It also refers to those dances influenced by the Spanish, and even some dances that tie in these older dance forms but adding slight twists. "Traditional Mexican dance" has become, essentially, an umbrella term.
Here we Are
Traditional Mexican dance has changed over the years. Depending on the region you are in, different dances are more prized then others. Also, region-to-region, dances that are the “same” can be performed very differently due to the culture, and history of an area. Different regions can also cling to dances that may not be well known or traditional in other areas.
Overall this project was very interesting. I enjoyed the sewing and learning about the culture. At times it was a little overwhelming to work with so much fabric. However, it proved to be very much worth it.
Dogra, Aastha. "Mexican Dances." Buzzle. Buzzle.com, 14 Jan. 2013. Web.
12 Mar. 2015.